7 June 2017

Photo essay: Families struggle for survival in drought-stricken northern Kenya

More than 95% of Marsabit County’s inhabitants are pastoralists. Their land has been hit very hard by drought and forecasters warn that conditions could worsen. Photographer: Rory Sheldon

SOS Children’s Villages has mobilised emergency relief programmes to address the needs of children and families in four East African countries who are struggling with drought and food insecurity.

The drought emergency response in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia focuses on food assistance, child protection, and nutritional support and monitoring. Depending on local needs, temporary shelter may be provided for at-risk children and families.
 
In Kenya alone, 2.6 million of the country’s 46 million people face food shortages – with nearly 360,000 children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers classified as acutely malnourished. Livestock losses caused by water scarcity affect both food supplies and income potential of rural families.
 
In Marsabit County, one of the most affected regions of Kenya, the conditions tell of a wider regional tragedy as water and food shortages pose a growing risk to children and families. Home to an estimated 300,000 people, Marsabit County is an arid region in the north of Kenya bordering Ethiopia. The drought has been one of the worst in living memory. The remoteness of many communities complicates the ability to delivery urgently needed assistance.
 
Like many families across drought-stricken regions of East Africa, those in Marsabit fight a daily struggle to survive and their outlook for the future is increasingly bleak. This photo essay illustrates their struggle.


Goalgallu Boru Ali, the matriarch of a family of 13 people, lives in Dambala Fachana, a village of 5,000 inhabitants close to the Ethiopian border. In mid-May, her family lost all 50 cows upon which their livelihoods depend. Many of Goalgallu Boru Ali’s children have been forced to leave home and travel great distances in order to find work. She sits with three of her grandchildren who no longer attend school. Goalgallu says, “We are lost without our cattle. What will we do now? How will my family survive?” 


In Maikona village, drought has caused the tragic loss of livestock. The price of livestock has plummeted, and in order to salvage what they can, pastoralists must slaughter their goats to salvage the meat. Village leaders say that more than 95% of the population has been affected by livestock loss and they are now dependent on food aid.


Jiba Okotu Halakhe is a village elder in Maikona who lost all of his livestock. “I have never seen anything like this before and I now fear for the future,” Jiba says. “We waited a long time for the rains and when rain finally arrived two weeks ago, it killed the last of my livestock.”

“When the camels start to die, you know you have a real problem,” says the chief of Kargi village, Moses Galoro. This camel died of thirst the previous day. Too heavy to move and too rotten to eat, the carcass will be left for hyenas. 


Kenya's government has launched a number of initiatives to confront the grave challenges posed by this drought, including food aid and the rollout of cash transfer funds based on a credit scheme. Holathura Eisimuobanai hopes to be able to feed his six children using the credit programme. “We will have to pay them back, but we can worry about that later. For now, we must eat,” he says.


Holathura’s wife left with his daughters to walk to Kargi village 20 km away. There they plan to apply for a cash transfer using a government credit programme and buy food for the family. “They left three days ago,” says Holathura, “And we have not eaten anything since. I do not know when she will return, and my sons are hungry.” 


The government recently delivered 500 kg of maize meal to the Dambala Fachana School. While this is very much welcomed, headmaster Wako Liban says, “It is not enough, and these deliveries are too few and far in between.”

The Dambala Fachana School has asked children to bring two litres of water to class with them each day as there is often a water shortage on site. Liban, the headmaster, admits that times are tough. “The community here is made up of pastoralists. Owing to the drought, a great number of people have moved away from this area in search of better grazing,” he says. “They take their children with them, and these kids do not return to school.”

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